SAP to renew pitch for in-memory databases

In a video self-interview, SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner previews his Sapphire keynote speech

SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner is set to revisit the topic of in-memory databases during a keynote address at the vendor's upcoming Sapphire conference on May 19.

The news was revealed this week in a video interview with Plattner, who interviewed himself with the help of some camera trickery and costumes.

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In-memory databases store information in a system's main memory, instead of on disk, providing a performance boost. The technology, which Plattner also discussed at last year's Sapphire event, is now beginning to be reflected in SAP BI (business intelligence) products, such as BusinessObjects Explorer.

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During his self-interview, Plattner indicated the German software giant has ambitious plans in the works.

Powered by ever-increasing amounts of RAM, in-memory computing will usher in an era of "completely new applications" in areas such as predictive analytics, Plattner said. Users will be able to conduct "multi-step queries at human speed, I mean less than one second. I think there's a revolution coming on the application side based on the speed."

Plattner described a hybrid approach to database management and data processing. For example, in the event of a power failure, information held in-memory would be lost. But the data could be quickly reloaded and restructured from permanent storage, using solid-state drives instead of traditional disk, according to Plattner.

Plattner is "working now on how the programming models have to change" with the growth of in-memory technology. "The changes now will be significant in the application code," he said.

Plattner faces a high-profile skeptic in the form of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who openly mocked SAP's goals during an event in January.

"Get me the name of their pharmacist," Ellison said at the time. "I mean, I know a lot about in-memory databases. In fact, we have the leading in-memory database, TimesTen. This is nonsense. There is no in-memory technology anywhere near ready to take the place of a relational database. It's a complete fantasy on their part."

Ellison also implied that SAP simply doesn't have the technical chops to deliver on its vision.

"An in-memory database is enormously complex. We do a lot of in-memory database work. It's an enormously complex job," he added. "If they've been working on it for a decade or so, or a couple of decades, maybe they'd be getting close. It's just so absurd that it's very hard for me to comment with a straight face. They should just keep to accounting."

In his self-interview, Plattner offered a measured response to Ellison's withering assault.

"As an expert, as he is, I'm pretty sure he reads all the publications in the field of databases," he said. "I think he knows about this, and knows that this is coming, so I can't really comment on his comment."

Others are skeptical that SAP can become a major player in databases.

"SAP has introduced various niche data management technologies over the years that might work well for them in an application or a BI product. But there's no evidence that SAP can be a leader in any form of [database] platform software," said Curt Monash of Monash Research.

However, rumors have persisted for years that SAP will acquire its partner Teradata, maker of a data warehousing appliance and its own database. Such a deal could color the competitive stakes significantly.

But Monash doesn't think that will happen, as both SAP's BI division and Teradata take pains to position themselves as agnostic offerings. "The negative effect on each of the businesses would probably outweigh the synergies," he said.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.